UK: THE MIXED-UP MANAGER - MANAGEMENT SURVEY. - If you are overtired, overworked, having problems at home but blisfully happy in your work then you are probably a British manager. Though few managers in 1993 can regard either their current jobs or career

by Peter Wilsher.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If you are overtired, overworked, having problems at home but blisfully happy in your work then you are probably a British manager. Though few managers in 1993 can regard either their current jobs or career strategies as 100% safe, they keep repeating 'it can't happen to me'. Management Today, in association with the Institute of Management and sponsored by Personal Performance Consultants, probed the minds of 989 UK managers to discover their current hopes and fears, their anxieties and dreams for the future. We found a mix of myopic optimism and bitter dissatisfaction.

The 1990s have not been good for the British executive. At the latest count almost 400,000 of the 'professional, managerial and technical' classes were registered as unemployed and drawing state benefit, and for them and many more the future can only be regarded as uncertain and bleak. Advertisements for the most humdrum assistant-general manager posts routinely attract 300 or more replies. There has been a sweeping and systematic clear-out of staff, mainly in the middle ranges of the corporate pyramid, and this is still far from complete. Banks, public bodies and major industrial groups from BT to British Aerospace continue to announce massive slim-down proposals, and much of their impact remains firmly focused on traditional areas of once safe and well-rewarded white-collar work. Few managers in 1993 can regard either their current jobs or their long-term career strategies as 100% safe.

In this issue of Management Today we present the results of a wide-ranging survey into the current state of UK managerial morale. It paints a graphic picture of men (and some women) under stress - shouldering ever-heavier work and responsibility loads, clocking up long hours, often well beyond the call of contractual duty, taking work home, in some cases several days a week and every weekend, and suffering a variety of unpleasant consequences, ranging from headaches and chronic insomnia to alcohol dependence, sexual inadequacy, exhaustion, and marital breakdown. More than 70% of respondents agreed that work-related anxieties were damaging their health, their morale and effectiveness at work and the quality of their home life. Almost three-quarters of respondents felt that overburdensome working hours and finding time to relax or spend with their partners was a cause of stress. When thinking of the future, over half were very concerned about their children's employment prospects.

A manager's life in the recession-hit, super-competitive, down-sized '90s is, as this survey shows, no picnic. More than 80% of respondents complained bitterly of incompetent senior management, poor internal communications, time pressures, constant interruptions and unrealistic business objectives. 'Trying diplomatically to tell one's superiors that they don't know what they are talking about and being totally ignored' was a cause of stress to one respondent. Other discontented rumblings included: 'I am meant to deal with people but now have no time to talk with them'. 'We work hard and longer hours yet we get no respect, motivation or security. Why do we do it?' asked one disgruntled executive. 'Firms expect loyalty from staff yet give none and never give any real reason to expect any,' bemoaned another.

But the British manager which emerges from this survey is a perverse and curious beast. Despite having good cause for growing dissatisfaction and concern, he appears strangely happy in his work and strikingly insouciant about his future prospects. Work, for 82% of respondents, was a source of satisfaction, two-thirds even declared it a source of pleasure. Fewer than one third contemplated the lure of either another job or a totally different career. The majority felt in control of their jobs and only 4% admitted to dreading work.

With regard to the future, the majority of respondents seem to have adopted ostrich-like positions towards job security. Very few managers felt their own jobs were at risk though one in three had already experienced redundancy (8% of them more than twice). Fewer than half were worried about future promotion opportunities or their future job security. Some 37% of the sample said they were anticipating promotion as their next move, either within their own organisation or elsewhere, and another 19% expected, at worst, a sideways step. Only a handful confessed to fearing downgrading or worse, or recognised that it might be prudent to explore the possibility of self-employment or early retirement.

Dr Peter Steddon, of Personal Performance Consultants UK, the industrial psychologists who sponsored the study in association with Management Today and the Institute of Management, claims to be unsurprised at such attitudes. It is human nature, he argues, to display stoic indifference, especially when one's self-esteem is under threat, and to keep repeating 'it can't happen to me'. He fondly recalls a seminar he once gave for 100 executives who all knew that only three or four of them were likely to survive the next departmental axe. But when asked to indicate if they thought they would be part of that tiny, select group the entire room put up its collective hand. 'At least, though, they then had the good grace to laugh at themselves.'

Certainly the statistics provide little support for such blind optimism. In the year to September 1992, which is the latest for which the Labour Force Survey provides comprehensive figures, there were 258,000 compulsory redundancies in the occupation-category labelled 'managerial' and there is little evidence as yet to suggest a significant slowing-down. And these figures exclude both central government and the National Health Service, which are both undergoing an extensive middle-to-senior staff cull. One outplacement agency recently reported its first request from a consultant surgeon seeking advice on alternative employment.

The shake-out has been countrywide, and few areas, industries or occupations have been wholly immune, but it is London and the South West which have been most savagely hit. There the 'managerial' group accounts for more than 40% of the regions' entire redundancy total, two in five of them coming from the business and finance sector - and managerial redundancy in the rest of the South East, at 30%, is not much better off. Indeed, one government study suggests that the professional classes now account for 19% of all unemployment in the South East, and in places like Guildford, where the phenomenon was until recently virtually unknown, it is predominantly the no-longer wanted, briefcase-carrying commuters who are responsible for a 320% rise in the joblessness totals.

Only part of this job-shedding can be directly attributed to the recession, and therefore likely to be reversed when business improves. A major proportion is structural and probably permanent, resulting from a potent combination of technological change and strategic rethinking. All over the world firms large and small have been forced to take a long, hard look at their costs, and in many instances then go on to undertake a fundamental reappraisal of their business priorities and the way they can best be satisfied. New, heavily-promoted concepts like 'de-layering', which seeks to eliminate whole levels of organisational bureaucracy, and 'outsourcing', which encourages the hiving-off of all but the most crucial of core activities, all tend to induce a large-scale slimming down of the executive workforce.

This in turn is reinforced by the inexorable advance of electronics. As the computer, the work station, the smart card and the relational data base progressively take over the basic white-collar tasks of information gathering, analysis and dissemination, so the middle manager is finding himself 'automated out' - as effectively as the man on the production line was a decade ago. It is no longer a joke to describe such once vital functionaries as an endangered species.

There is no doubt that the axe has been swung to some purpose. British Airports Authority, one of the more modest restructurers, has trimmed its executive top-hamper by 20% in the past two years. British Aerospace has chopped out 500 research, technical sales and similar high-skill posts from its previous establishment of 1,700. British Petroleum lopped one in three from its headquarters' staff requirement, and British Telecom, only marginally more ruthless than the rest, eliminated 6,000 in one year from its managerial grades. Behind such wholesale eliminations (and they are happening everywhere - just look at IBM's recent decision to chop 60,000 people at a stroke) is a chilling fact of economics, most succinctly enunciated by the veteran management thinker Peter Drucker. Blue-collar productivity, he says, has grown 40-fold in the last 100 years while white-collar productivity, as far as it is possible to measure it, has not increased at all.

The theme is taken up by Tom Peters in his latest blockbuster commentary Liberation Management.The real reason for these relentless lay-offs, he argues, is that middle managers and staffers have not really contributed very much. 'Frighteningly few can claim convincingly that they have provided real value' - either for employers or clients. And Tony Knight, who directs the strategic development programme at Henley Management College offers a similar explanation for the large number of mid-range executives currently being asked to collect their P45s: 'I think that generally organisations are squeezing out a lot of fat at that level, simply because they are finding more efficient ways to organise themselves to do the work'.

One of the striking findings thrown up by the survey, however, is a widespread unwillingness to recognise such trends, and their possible consequences for the individuals concerned. Two out of three respondents confidently see themselves working with their present employer for at least another three years, and half of those expect to remain there until retirement - an achievement likely to become progressively rarer with the widespread trend towards part-time, flexible work patterns and fixed-term, performance-related contracts (now being suggested even for such conservative services as the universities and the police).

Such myopia is hard to square with the evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, about what is really happening. Headhunters and recruitment specialists have a fund of stories, like the favourite one told by Jamieson Scott, about the executive living in an up-market Surrey cul-de-sac, who was ashamed to tell his neighbours he had been fired and pretended each day to set off for the office as usual, until he discovered that the men in five of the other six houses were all in exactly the same uncomfortable boat.

Few respondents, one suspects, would be particularly happy, either, at the results of various research projects which have been carried out into the kind of people who are most likely to keep - or lose - their jobs. Both Cranfield business school and Manchester University's Institute of Science and Technology have had a go at this riddle.

Their consensus view is that it is often the more imaginative, self-confident and go-getting individuals - the ones who argue at committee meetings - who tend to find the black bin-bag waiting on their desk, while their non boat-rocking colleagues with a strongly-developed aptitude for office politics are the ones who successfully survive.

It is possibly significant, therefore, that 'office politics' in the survey rates as the second most commonly-cited source of extreme stress, outdistanced only by 'incompetent senior management'. Some people are clearly recognising where the real threat may lie. But when it comes to analysing the rather less clear-cut category of 'stressful', familiar irritations such as poor internal communications, time pressures and deadlines, constant interruptions and even the difficulty of finding time to relax are cited most frequently.

Relaxing may not be a major problem, however, if the worst happens, and all those files taken home to read in bed, or the jacket left on the back of the chair to suggest a midnight presence in the office, fail to stay the day of execution (or at any rate, premature departure). Especially if the victim heeds the dire warning routinely offered to its clients by Reed Personnel Services, that managers will be the last category to be recalled, even after the recession definitely ends.

It is too early at this stage to see the managerial pruning process coming to an end (and for some, like the big food retailers, who are nearing completion of a major expansion phase, it could be just about to restart). But there is perhaps some slight comfort to be drawn from the growing recognition that, in some cases, it may have already gone too far. One of those highlighting this concern is Bernard Taylor, Henley Management College's professor of business policy. 'In many cases,' he says, 'they have cut out managers who made important contributions - planners, marketing people, personnel people, training people. They were often very senior and very experienced.'

But the real problem, as he identifies it, is not so much their departure as the increased burden it shifts on to the shoulders of those left behind. They are forced to work three times as hard (35% of survey respondents claim their workload has increased by at least one third during the past year) with depleted and inferior back-up services, leaving themselves with little or no time to think or plan ahead (and certainly no time to refresh their ideas and skills with such things as external training courses). 'Yet nowadays the rate of change is very rapid. These people are totally unprepared for it.'

London Business School's visiting professor, Charles Handy, puts it even more succinctly. Inside the executive goldfish bowl, he says, 'we have half the number of managers, paid twice as much and expected to be three times as productive', while outside the highly-trained and once highly-regarded talents of the other half are largely running to waste. In terms of Britain's corporate and economic health it is not a sustainable balance. And in the meantime it is a sure-fire recipe for executive stress.

Management survey

All work and no time to play is a major source of worry for the British manager. Nevertheless his job - albeit increasingly insecure, remains a dependable source of interest, pleasure and satisfaction.

Your feelings about work Agree% Disagree% Not sure%

My work is a source of satisfaction 82 10 8

My work is a source of stress 71 15 14

My work is a source of pleasure 66 17 17

My work is a source of worry 56 34 10

I am fully in control of my job 53 21 26

I have a good balance between home/work 43 39 18

I am suffering from too much work 40 38 22

I struggle to achieve work goals/targets 35 56 9

I often think of finding another job 32 55 13

I often think of changing career 27 62 11

I dread going to work 4 89 7

You are concerned by* Extremely Not

anxious% Anxious% anxious%

Conflicting demands on time at work 6 76 18

Demands of work on family

relationships 6 71 23

Lack of further career opportunities 11 65 24

Lack of job security 10 66 24

Demands of work on relationship with

partner 7 68 25

Possibility of redundancy 8 63 29

Money shortages 7 62 31

Meeting targets/deadlines 2 64 34

Possible age discrimination 11 51 38

Pension arrangements 6 53 41

Mortgage repayments 4 44 52

Lack of training 2 46 52

Not having the right skills 1 44 55

Ability to fulfil role 1 38 61

(*where applicable)

You have suffered from (over last 3 months) %

Disturbed sleep patterns 68

Headaches, pains or tightness in head 53

Preoccupation with a particular worry 46

Indigestion, sickness or stomach pains 40

Constant irritability or impatience 39

Undue exhaustion 36

Blocked creativity or productivity 25

Drinking/smoking more than usual 21

Sexual difficulties 14

Shortness of breath or dizziness 14

You are stressed by* Extremely Not

stressful% Stressful% stressful%

Finding time to spend with partner 5 75 20

Finding time to relax 8 72 20

Number of hours worked 4 73 23

Finding time to spend with children 5 66 29

Weekend working 3 67 30

Travel during work 2 48 50

Journey to work 3 43 54

Arranging childcare 4 25 71

(*where applicable)

You expect to stay in your company %

Less than 1 year 9

1-2 years 14

3-5 years 20

6-10 years 9

Until retirement 36

Don't know 12

Work anxiety adversely affects %

Your morale at work 77

Your effectiveness at work 76

Your relationship with your partner 75

Your health 72

Your relationship with your family 68

You have experienced (for more than 3 months)

More than once% Once% Never%

Dismissal 2 6 92

Redundancy 8 25 67

Unemployment 8 18 74

What worries you about the future %

Job opportunities for your children 53

Lack of further career progress 48

Inability to get a job due to age 47

Fewer promotion opportunities 44

Lack of job security 44

Redundancy 42

You are stressed by* Extremely Not

stressful% Stressful% stressful%

Poor internal communications 10 78 12

Time pressures/deadlines 6 80 14

Constant interruptions 7 76 17

Securing correct information 6 76 18

Unrealistic business objectives 5 76 19

Incompetent senior management 15 65 20

Office politics 13 65 22

Inadequately trained staff 5 71 24

Too many meetings 6 69 25

Lack of power and influence 7 65 28

Handling constant change 3 62 35

Relationships with superiors 5 57 38

Keeping up with new IT 1 59 40

Managing staff problems 1 51 48

Relationships with colleagues 1 49 50

Managing juniors 1 39 60

Using existing IT 0 40 60

Insufficient work 6 31 63

(*where applicable)

What next move do you expect? %

Promotion within my organisation 21

Retirement 19

Promotion outside my organisation 16

Horizontal move within my organisation 14

Career change/other move 13

Horizontal move outside my organisation 5

Redundancy 6

Self-employment 5

Downwards move outside my organisation 1

You have experienced (during the past year) %

Hospital admission (family member) 44

Bereavement 31

Moving house 25

Hospital admission (self) 18

Birth of child 10

Separation 4

Marriage 3

Divorce 3

Other 2

Your sex %

Male 94

Female 6

Your age %

Under 35 6

35-44 35

45-54 46

Over 54 13

Your status %

Married/living with partner 91

Divorced/separated 4

Single 4

Other 1

Your responsibilities %

Children under 5 19

Children under 16 49

Children over 16 in education 43

Elderly dependant 19

Your region %

South East 27

London 18

North West 12

North East 11

South West 11

Scotland 9

East Anglia 8

Wales 3

Northern Ireland 1

Your current salary %

Under £20,000 7

£20-30,000 34

£30-40,000 33

£40-50,000 15

Over £50,000 11

Your management level %

Chairman/Chief executive 7

Director/Partner 20

Senior management 38

Middle management 29

Junior management 3

Other 3

Your organisation %

Public sector 32

Private sector 67

Voluntary sector 1

Your organisation's function %

Manufacturing 24

Services 76

Your organisation's employees %

Fewer than 50 22

50-500 25

500-1,000 11

1,000-10,000 22

10,000-50,000 8

Over 50,000 12

Your average working week %

Under 35 hours 2

35-40 hours 14

40-50 hours 43

50-60 hours 28

60-70 hours 9

Over 70 hours 4

Hours worked in excess of official hours %

16-25 hours 31

6-15 hours 50

1-5 hours 14

None 5

Workload changes in past year %

Increased by one half 8

Increased by one third 27

Increased by 10% 38

No change 21

Decreased 6

Work taken home during week %

Every night 9

One or more times a week 44

One or more times a fortnight 16

Once or twice a month 20

Never 11

Work taken home at weekends %

Every weekend 22

Once or twice a month 31

Occasionally 35

Never 12

Business travel in UK Abroad%

Several times per week 37 1

One or twice a week 26 1

Once a month or less 37 98

Further information on this survey and a report can be obtained from Trudy Coe, Institute of Management, 2 Savoy Court, Strand, London WC2 0EZ. Tel: 071 497 0580.

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